Life is pretty painless working in Reckitt Benckiser’s Nurofen team, Sarah Houlton learns

A desire to work on something practical led Jenny to her job at Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare in Hull, UK. After a natural sciences degree at the University of Cambridge she completed a PhD in RNA therapeutics to treat cervical cancer (along with rowing in the women’s boat race for good measure). ‘I did a few courses during my PhD about product commercialisation, which made me realise I wanted to work on marketable products,’ she says. ‘But my PhD was on something maybe 20 years away from the market! I wanted to work for a fast-moving consumer goods company. The Nurofen team at [Reckitt] seemed perfect.’

Six months on, the job has surpassed her expectations. ‘So many aspects of my day-to-day role are enjoyable,’ she says. ‘I’m involved in early stage product development, all the way through to scale-up and production. It’s really good to see the product as a whole, and all the teams involved in it.’

The level of science involved in working on such a well known drug came as something as a surprise. ‘I’m looking for new product formats for ibuprofen, and when we’re designing new formulations, there is a lot of chemistry, understanding ibuprofen and its compatibilities,’ she says. ‘Innovation is encouraged here – no obscure idea is ever looked down upon.’

The business focus makes her work feel more ‘real world’ than it did in academia, she adds. ‘I like reaching goals, and here there is more achievement and “ownership” than in an academic environment,’ she explains. ‘The other thing that really appeals is the core values of achievement, entrepreneurship, partnership and ownership [Reckitt] promotes – it means there are a lot of like-minded people here.’ 

In a typical week, maybe three-quarters of her time is spent in the lab, with the rest in meetings. ‘It really depends on the state of the projects,’ she says. ‘I also look after equipment, learning about it and teaching others. Most of my colleagues are chemists, and there is a lot of science chat about formulations. I really enjoy this collaborative problem solving – we often find answers we wouldn’t come up with on our own. It’s very satisfying.’  

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